By Jamie Henneman
As the power of the Internet continues to grow, itâ€™s become a networking and sales tool for agronomists of all sizes.
Today, if you want your farm business to get noticed, you can hit the streets as a vendor at a local farmers’ market, or you can hit the web with a virtual farmersâ€™ market of your own.
Here are some basics to consider when breaking into the online market:
- Decide what you want from your farmers’ market website. Check out some of the better-known sites to get a feel for some user-friendly formats.
- Determine your start-up costs. Website creation, updates and hosting can easily cost a couple thousand dollars, unless youâ€™re lucky enough to have your own computer skills or an interested farmer who can do the work in exchange for being part of your website.
- Secure consistent vendors. Network with the regular vendors at your local farmersâ€™ market, and see what items they may like to sell online as well. Because local farmersâ€™ markets are usually seasonal, virtual farmers’ markets allow vendors to have an expanded season and possibly pursue the production of off-season crops (like greenhouse lettuces and greens) or items that store through the winter (such as potatoes, carrots, squash or frozen meat items). Having a varied selection that is regularly updated can keep people coming back to your website.
- Pin down your logistics. Itâ€™s important to determine from the outset how the website will be self-supporting or bring in a profit. Most virtual farmersâ€™ markets operate under the same rules as an in-person market; the vendor pays a commission fee to the market, usually based on gross sales. For an online system, this could be a monthly fee to simplify things.
Also, a product pick-up spot needs to be determined for regular customer pickups.
Organically minded restaurants or natural-food stores may be willing to do this, as it helps bring in more business for them, as well.
Most of all, a virtual market needs to have that same â€śconnectednessâ€ť that people experience at a live market.
Prompt responses to e-mails, regular product updates and efficiency in the pick-up process are all key to letting the consumer know this is just like the live market, maybe better.